Help Wanted


My last attempt to escape my apparent fate as a cabinetmaker involved going back to school in the early 1990s. After graduating with a master’s degree in religious studies, I imagined it would be easier to find work that would bring me into contact with people instead of mute material, which I’d consistently found depressing in my woodworking career up to that time. Over a period of four months I sent out employment applications while taking any odd jobs I could get. It was a trying year for the would-be employed in south-central Indiana; listings in the “Help Wanted” section of the local paper included such enticements as “LOOKING FOR A CAREER WITH CHALLENGE? Parkland Pork Enterprises is seeking a Production Manager to oversee all aspects of pork production!” and “TRAIN TO BE A CHILDREN’S ETIQUETTE CONSULTANT: You will join over 600 consultants who are providing the highest quality programs in the United States and abroad.”*


I wasn’t kidding about those job ads, though I changed the names, as I did with most names throughout the book.

I had a couple of interviews for office work but still had not been hired when I was called to interview for a clerical position in one of the university’s academic departments. The pay was low, but the university offered some of the best working conditions in town. I would spend my days in one of the historic campus buildings, a limestone Tudor originally constructed as a dorm. I could already see myself walking the mile and a half to work each morning, the perfect distance for a pedestrian commute, and eating my lunch of leftovers on the lawn at the center of the quadrangle. I was certainly qualified for the position. All I had to do was show my interest and enthusiasm, which were sincere. I dressed in a nice skirt and blouse and walked to campus feeling confident that this job might well be mine.

When I arrived at the office, the administrative secretary took me into a meeting room and introduced me to the chair, Professor Jameson, who was seated at the head of the table. Standing up, he shook my hand and smiled warmly. “I just had to meet you after reading your résumé,” he began. Things were looking good.

“We’re not going to hire you,” he continued. “You’re seriously overqualified. But I called you here so that I could ask you in person: Why would such a talented and accomplished personal apply for a clerical job?”–Nancy Hiller, author of Making Things Work 


Hamming for my boyfriend the summer when I was desperately seeking a job.

*OK, so the real ad, shown above, said 500. This does nothing to minimize the surreal experience of finding such a gem among the job listings. And for those of you who have already read Making Things Work, I agree with you that Nancy Hiller could have learned a lot by attending that school.

About nrhiller

cabinetmaker and author
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5 Responses to Help Wanted

  1. Eric R says:

    I am currently reading making Things Work, and I am enjoying it.
    From “finding the golden rivet” to putting up with Gaston, it is entertaining.


  2. potomacker says:

    I’ve had similar experiences in academia. I once sat through an interview while a secretary took notes of the proceedings, only to be told towards the end of an hour about the interviewer’s latest promotion and that I would need to speak with his replacement if I still wanted the job.


  3. bsrlee says:

    If it had been me, Professor Jameson would have expanded his knowledge of invective considerably. I really fail to understand how these people can fail to understand ‘I want a job’ and ‘I want to eat and not live in an old carton on the sidewalk’ – to me ‘over qualified’ seems to mean ‘I’m terrified you are so much better than me, they’ll fire me and give you my job’. People from some ethnic backgrounds are notorious for only hiring staff who are even less competent than themselves unfortunately.

    I have known of people who have had to lie about their qualifications, forgetting an MBA or years of experience in upper management, because they can no longer put up with the stress of being a top line manager or they want experience in a different working environment to what they have been in as an MBA. Been there, got the scars.


    • gilgaron says:

      My understanding is that the rationale behind not hiring overqualified people is that they won’t be happy in the job and will continue looking for something better and leave right around the time you have them trained.


  4. I am abot to study Philosophy and Theology at University, which is strongly linked to religious studies 🙂


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